New Life Taking Hold – for EVERYBODY
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.’
Philip and the Ethiopian
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Like mushrooms popping up everywhere in the wet autumn, like the sprouting of the vines when that comes, Easter resurrection spreads. New life takes hold of the old and transforms it all.
After Easter we hear of this rising of a new movement within the city. Later it will be called ‘The Way’ – the way of the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. Strange how the expansion happens.
Persecution breaks out in the city against people identified with this new ‘Way’. People scatter to outlying towns.
But Jesus’ new creation proves to be unstoppable. It is like flooding river water flowing across hundred or kilometres of dry ground down to the sea. It will get there, not matter what.
The more they try and repress it, reject it, kill it, the more it lives and moves and grows. But even the disciples are not ready for just how much.
Jesus was Jewish. They are Jewish. The religious leaders are Jewish. They killed him. The Jewish people demanded they do so. People of the Way are largely Jewish. This is among Jews for Jews by a Jew, isn’t it?
We hear of three incidents that say, ‘no’. They and we are shown that Jesus’ inclusive unstoppable new creation is here FOR EVERYONE.
Story 1 – Phillip in enemy territory – Samaria. Signs, wonders, Simon the sorcerer disrupted, amazed men AND WOMEN: even women, baptised (Counter cultural). Joy. Simon and his sorcery rendered useless. Even he is baptised.
Peter and the others are unsure. Jesus’ forgiveness and new life can’t just be thrown around everywhere for everyone, can they?
Peter and John head into Samaria to investigate. They see that the community is transformed. They simply pray for these new people – non-Jewish people of their new Way.
Story 2. (Our word today). Phillip gets the Spirit’s word to go south. This is strategic. This is the risen Jesus bringing his new life to a whole new continent via the Gaza road.
Think new life EXPANSION! Think INCLUSION. Think Jesus new life FOR EVERYBODY!
Who is this Ethiopian? Well, he is a bit of a mystery. He is weak and strong, derided and powerful. He may be a Jew or Gentile.
He is a man who has been castrated. His is a ‘Eunuch’. He is by many people’s common understanding, only ‘half a man’. But he is also more than your average man – he is the Ethiopian Treasurer under the Queen.
He is very dark skinned (Ethiopia means ‘burnt face’ in Greek). He may be of Jewish descent. Why else would he be in Jerusalem for the Festival? But eunuchs are expressly forbidden from entering the temple area in Deuteronomy 32:1.
But he knows Jerusalem. He is coming back from the Passover Festival.. He went to the city specifically to ‘worship’.
And he knows the Word of God. He has got his very rare Scriptures with him. He can read too. He hears Isaiah,
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth …’
And here is how the new creation expands and moves and lives with people who don’t fit family, national, sexual or religious lines …
– person-to-person around the Scriptures by the Spirit.
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
If it had been you in the carriage would you have just said, “Ah, I don’t know. Here’s Pastor’s number”? That is not what Phillip does. He just speaks what he can speak and does what he can do in the moment.
Maybe something like …
“There was this Rabbi. His name was Jesus. That is who the prophet is talking about.
Jesus said that he was this promised Saviour talked about here.
He said he would give up his own life to deal with all of our human evil. He healed our diseases. He even told people their sins were forgiven by God – which we believe he is.
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter …”
That is exactly what he did. He was ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and he suffered terribly and was executed.
But then everything changed. He rose. He rose from the grave. He spoke to people, ate with people, called his followers to keep on telling what they heard and doing what he does. He ascended and is now present with us ruling his new creation……
So here we are. I am here with you. Jesus is alive and here. He forgives you. He heals you. He loves you…”
“I want it. I want him. I want to be baptised”. The Ethiopian even finds the roadside water for it. Phillip gladly baptised this man of the south and Phillip is then gone north.
This man is the first convert in southern Africa (that we know of). He will carry this news and live this new life in places it has never been. This new creation will expand to all the dark faces across Africa. It still is.
Friends, we are not on the south road to Gaza, but we are on lots of streets in the Barossa.
I know, our city is different. In a Western culture that is doing its best to get rid of, ignore and reject anything to do with the church, and its gospel message, it seems a lot harder to share the gospel.
The future of a local church is still like Phillip and this Ethiopian man – like Luther put it; “one person telling another person where to get bread”.
So, that is Jesus’ call and his promise too. Our future is showing and telling the forgiveness and acceptance we know; telling Jesus’ the way we can, not the way we can’t, with who we can, not with people we don’t know.
We simply use our words as we use our feet and hands the way we can, not the way we can’t, with people we know not people we don’t.
Like our big bell, simple one-to-one invitation, caring, talking, praying, learning and living with faith and hope in Jesus is THE way the Spirit enables the gospel to ring out from us through you and me.
No one has to be a superstar or some gifted Apostle or specialist evangelist. No one has to have a hundred friends or visit 20 places per week. No one needs to be a Pastor either.
Phillip just heard and went and said, and the Spirit expanded it.
Two things are true for you.
- You have Jesus and he is all you need.
- There are open people.
Remain in Jesus and tell a few of them when it comes up …
3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:3-4)
I find that there are people very closed off to Jesus. I find that there are more and more people who are actually open to the possibility. Just like the Ethiopian needed someone to sit with him and share THE story, so do they.
Story 3 is where the other two lead: Peter being led into the unthinkable possibility that this new creation is really for EVERYONE.
Peter would experience the ‘Gentile Pentecost’ in the town of Joppa (a long way from Jerusalem) in a pagan/non-Jewish family of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Who would have thought that!? Not him. Not the Twelve. But Jesus did!
Story 4 – That’s US. Jesus is alive and expanding, including and transforming his resurrection power and love in people among us.
We are here to carry the gospel. It is our life’s calling in all our callings.
So, we brush off our bibles. We pray for few non-Christian friends. We make time to sense their questions and respond with his story and ours with what we already know of him. We know enough. We are enough because he is enough.
Jesus for EVERYONE.